Not much time goes by between reissues of Casablanca, that happy-accident apex of old Hollywood craftsmanship. The 1942 wartime romance has graced three different video labels in the past decade. It shows up routinely on TV as well, and a few months ago it even got a theatrical rerelease in honor of its 50th birthday. So how many people haven’t already drunk their fill at Rick’s? And why, when MGM/UA remastered and repromoted Casablanca on cassette in 1989, is the company supplementing that version with two new releases, Casablanca: Remastered Collector’s Edition ($24.98, PG) and a boxed Fiftieth Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition ($99.98, PG)?
Because memorabilia plays, that’s why. Like pricey CD retrospectives, keepsake videos of movie favorites are now a boom business. Citizen Kane, The Godfather Saga, and Fantasia, packaged with programs about their creation, have racked up big sales. Even recent hits such as Fatal Attraction and, this fall, Beauty and the Beast, are getting instant-artifact treatment, and why not? These coffee-table enshrinements help celebrate and validate viewers’ attachments to their favorite movies.
What’s unusual about MGM/UA’s buy-Casablanca blitzkrieg (promoted with $7 million in advertising) is that it gives collectors an appealing low-road option, since the best goodies haven’t been reserved exclusively for the deluxe model. Both editions use a new digital-video transfer that lends Humphrey Bogart’s white blazers and Ingrid Bergman’s refugee chic a crisper sheen. The audio is more atmospheric too, bringing out the soundtrack’s multilingual asides and pounding bits of underscoring with a new clarity. And the new $25 tape tacks on the same half-hour documentary, narrated by Lauren Bacall, that’s included on a separate cassette in the $100 edition. (It’s three minutes longer there, but the additions aren’t essential.) Smart, snappy, and reasonably objective, the program almost makes up for an opening pitch from the tape’s sponsor, Taster’s Choice, that equates Rick and Ilsa with the Brit lovers showcased in the coffee company’s TV spots. Somewhere, Bogie is wincing.
You may wince too if you fork over the cover charge for the boxed set. There’s one great item, a hardcover book stuffed with making—of minutiae—but you can buy this tome by Frank Miller in paperback for $20 in bookstores. The rest is a come-on as shaky as any in a North African bazaar: some 8 x 10 glossies, a mail-in form for a poster, a dialogue transcription, and a Certificate of Ownership, assigning you your own personal collector’s number.
By all means, light a candle to Casablanca for its golden anniversary. There is always some new note to pick up on: a nearly subliminal cutaway shot of sneering villain Major Strasser, or the way Bogie calls Reich officers ”gnatsies.” But compared with watching the movie, most of the souvenir trappings don’t amount to a hill of beans. Movie: A+ Anniversary-edition extras: B+ Deluxe-edition extras: C